Since 2018, with the one-two punch of Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu that flattened a large part of the CNMI, to the economic ruin caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the CNMI has so far been allocated federal assistance amounting to a cumulative total of nearly $1 billion. Some of that has already been awarded and some are in the pipeline.
Citing figures provided by the CNMI Office of Grants Management, the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers said the CNMI is looking at nearly $1 billion worth of grants that would help the islands recover from Typhoon Mangkhut, Super Typhoon Yutu, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said the council, which he co-chairs, sees the strategic acquisition of grants for infrastructure improvement and projects as a significant factor in getting the CNMI economy back on track.
“Recovery has been at the top of our priorities since 2018, and we have done our due diligence to ensure we maximize federal grant opportunities to expedite home rebuilding, infrastructure improvement, and economic development to bring us back to where we were before Super Typhoon Yutu. We will be implementing a whole-of-government approach for our recovery to make sure our islands are stronger and more resilient against future disasters,” Torres said.
“The hard-earned attainment of the hundreds of millions of federal dollars that are anticipated to assist the CNMI’s recovery are critical in leveraging additional funding to resolve the $1.4 billion in estimated infrastructure projects determined during the CNMI Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Update,” said GCEA Tourism and Infrastructure Reboot Committee chair Alex Sablan, who used to serve as commissioner of the CEDS in 2015 and 2018.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently approved the CNMI’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery action plan submitted by the Northern Marianas Housing Corp., providing $244 million for the recovery needs of the islands from the two typhoons.
There is also the more than $80-million grant from the Economic Development Administration, and among the projects being considered for this funding are the Civic Center-Cultural Center and improvements at the Oleai Sports Complex, office expansion of the Department of Finance, and three other projects that involve the Northern Marianas College, Public School System, and the Northern Marianas Technical Institute.
Funds for waste management; other critical grants
Part of the record grants is the $56 million for Solid Waste Management from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and GCEA Domestic Policy Committee member Gary Sword said this must be utilized to begin to reverse the trend of environmental pollution and the public health and economic threat to the islands.
“Tourism is the economic pillar of the CNMI and is being challenged by scattered garbage in beaches and poor ocean water quality that is a public health hazard. [Garbage] will hurt our economy and have serious ecological damage across the CNMI,” Sword said.
He added that an efficient and cost-effective way of waste management is no trade secret, as it involves proper collection and disposal and recycling.
Meanwhile, other grants that have been awarded to the CNMI include $9,325,974 and $6,022,764 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant for Mangkut and Yutu, respectively, and the $5 million for the Historic Preservation Office from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The OGM is also expecting $4,269,064 from the Federal Highway Administration for the Department of Public Works. NMHC, on the other hand, has been awarded $275,414 and is anticipating an additional $815,225 from HUD’s Emergency Solutions Grant (for COVID-19), while the grant from CARES Act provided the corporation with $549,270 and the supplemental $274,635 are forthcoming.
“The funding made available by Congress to support the development of the CNMI’s infrastructure is certainly bolstered by the hard work and effort put forward by the administration and the COVID-19 Task Force in keeping our community safe and saving lives throughout our islands,” said Sablan, adding that GCEA recognizes the extensive effort by the NMHC in securing the CDBG-DR grants.
“The GCEA is very impressed with the administrations’ effort to work with their federal partners to generate nearly $1 billion in FEMA, EDA, DOE, and OIA grants. This is simply unprecedented in CNMI history and a key step in resolving our long-standing systemic infrastructure issues, helping our community recover from disasters, and rebuilding our economy,” said Sablan. (PR)